PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Parents of children who have died of sepsis in Rhode Island appealed to lawmakers Thursday night, telling them the state needs to establish standard protocols for sepsis detection.
Three mothers testified before the House Health, Education and Welfare committee in favor of a resolution that would “respectfully request” the Department of Health create the protocols, which are in place in other states like New York.
“We don’t want this to happen to anybody else,” said Alaina Charette, whose daughter Layla died in 2017. “If my daughter’s death, our daughters’ deaths can prevent one child from dying and one family from having to go through this, then it’s worth it to us.”
Layla was five years old when she came home from kindergarten with a fever, and Charette said her doctor recommend tylenol, fluids and rest. But by nightfall, the fever had spiked and Layla was vomiting and delusional. Her parents rushed her to Hasbro Children’s Hospital, where she was diagnosed with sepsis.
Just days later, she died.
“She was just very energetic, she was our everything,” Layla’s dad BJ Charette said.
Gianna Cirella, a Warwick teenager who played soccer, also died at Hasbro in 2017. Her symptoms began with a sore throat, for which she was prescribed antibiotics. But it didn’t go away, and she ended up in the hospital with sepsis. Sixteen days later, she died on Nov. 1.
“Gianna was seen by three medical providers before she got to Hasbro,” said her mother, Tara Cirella. Cirella believes the sepsis could have been caught earlier if there were protocols in place and regulations to test for it early.
She said if Gianna were still alive, she would be the type of person to push for this legislation.
“She would be doing if it was somebody else,” Cirella said. “That’s what we need to know about Gianna. And that’s why we’re here, as hard as this is.”
The non-binding resolution introduced by Majority Leader Joe Shekarchi would request that the Department of Health create protocols for sepsis, though he said he would be willing to make it mandatory in the future if DOH wasn’t willing to do it.
“There’s ways to prevent this,” Shekarchi said an interview with Eyewitness News. “And I want to make sure that our hospitals in Rhode Island, especially with the pending merger between Partners and Care New England, and hopefully with Lifespan as well, that we can take action prospectively to prevent this.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, Rhode Island had a sepsis death rate of 7.1 per 100,000 people in 2017. The life-threatening condition is the body’s response to an infection. One in three patients who die in a hospital have sepsis, according to the CDC.
Neil Hytinen, the legislative liasion for the Department of Health, testified before the committee Wednesday night.
“The Department of Health is absolutely in support of anything we can do to help prevent and detect early sepsis at our health care institutions,” Hytinen said. Asked by representatives if there was a simple way for all health care providers to test for sepsis at appointments for routine infections, Hytinen said DOH was looking into technology that has recently been developed.
“Medicine’s always evolving as new tools become available,” Hyntinen said. “This is something that a few states have just recently implemented.”
Joseph Wendelken, a spokesperson for the Department of Health, also said they were proud of the work being done at Hasbro, pointing to an article on the hospital’s website about sepsis. The article, written by attending physician Susan Duffy, emphasizes that early detection is key to surviving sepsis. It says Hasbro is using “electronic alerts” in health care records to notify care teams of “abnormal vital signs that suggest patients may be at risk for sepsis and require further evaluation.”
In the case of both Gianna and Layla, they were diagnosed with sepsis at Hasbro. But both had sought treatment or a doctor’s advice at the first sign of symptoms, prior to going to the hospital. Alaina Charette said she’ll never know if Layla could have been saved if her doctor implemented sepsis protocols when they made the first phone call.
“Even that tiny little ‘maybe’ is something,” Charette said.